EPL

Premier League Fantasy Picks: Why Mahrez and Keane are worth a shot

By Sports Desk November 27, 2020

With coronavirus restrictions to be eased and fans allowed back into (some) stadia next month, matchday 10 will hopefully be the last of this season's Premier League where every game is behind closed doors.

With that in mind, this weekend is likely to become something of a cut-off point in 2020-21 in terms of assessing how players and teams are faring, and whether the absence of fans has helped or hindered.

In other words, if anyone likes playing in front of empty stands, this will be their last chance to really enjoy themselves – and rack up some fantasy football points for the discerning manager.

Using Opta data, we've come up with our latest weekly selection, which might give some of you an edge heading into the festive period...

 

KARL DARLOW

Newcastle United fans might not be fully behind Steve Bruce, but one most can agree on is that goalkeeper Karl Darlow is enjoying career-best form.

The 30-year-old has filled in admirably for Martin Dubravka this season, making more saves (41) than any other Premier League goalkeeper. In fact, only Edouard Mendy (87.5 per cent) has a better save percentage than Darlow (72.2 per cent).

Goals are usually at a premium when Newcastle play Crystal Palace – only seven have been scored in the previous seven meetings – so a Darlow clean sheet could well be on the cards.

 

MATT DOHERTY

Matt Doherty is one of only three defenders to have scored and assisted four Premier League goals since the start of 2019-20.

The Tottenham man has had 98 touches in the opposition box in that time, a tally bettered only by Andy Robertson when it comes to defenders.

However, nobody beats Doherty for shots on target over that time frame (17). As a defender for a resolute Tottenham side, he's always worth including.

 

MICHAEL KEANE

Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been plundering the goal trail this season, but Michael Keane might just be Everton's most clinical finisher.

No Premier League defender has scored more than Keane (three goals) since June 2020, and those goals have come from only seven shots, giving him the best conversion rate (42.9 per cent) among defenders to score more than once in the competition in that time.

Everton have struggled for clean sheets lately but Keane at least could offset those defensive issues if he nets against Leeds United.

RIYAD MAHREZ

Burnley do not like playing Manchester City. They've won once in 12 Premier League meetings and lost the previous six in all competitions by an aggregate score of 23-1.

They are also sick of the sight of Riyad Mahrez, who has scored four goals in his most recent three league games against the Clarets. They are his second favourite opponents, behind Watford (he has seven goals against them).

Pep Guardiola could well rotate his side as the schedule continues to pile up, and Mahrez will be eager to impress.

 

BRUNO FERNANDES

Where would Manchester United be without Bruno Fernandes? Well, they'd be winless this season - he's scored the winning goal in each of their four league victories in 2020-21.

In fact, Fernandes has been involved in more Premier League goals (24 – 14 scored, 10 assisted) than any other player since his debut. In the same period, only Kevin De Bruyne (74) has created more chances than the Portugal star (56).

Facing Southampton away is a tough challenge for any side at the moment, so a decisive Fernandes display could be crucial for United.

DOMINIC CALVERT-LEWIN

Dominic Calvert-Lewin leads the way for goalscoring this season, with 10 in nine games.

If he scores against Leeds United, he will become only the second player to score more than 10 in his side's first 10 games, after Les Ferdinand, who hit 13 in 1995-96.

Leeds will be no pushovers, but Calvert-Lewin will take some stopping.

 

TAMMY ABRAHAM

Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham is looking to score in three consecutive Premier League games for the first time since last September.

Abraham has actually scored twice as many goals (18) as any other Blues player since the beginning of last season.

Frank Lampard has plenty of attacking riches at his disposal, but Abraham is out to prove a point to his boss.

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  • De Bruyne v Grealish: Creative kings set to take centre stage in Man City v Aston Villa De Bruyne v Grealish: Creative kings set to take centre stage in Man City v Aston Villa

    Manchester City and Aston Villa would have faced each other on the opening weekend of this Premier League campaign had Pep Guardiola's side not reached the final stages of the Champions League in Lisbon and earned an extra week to recuperate.

    Plenty of what's happened since then - for both of these clubs and throughout the division - would have been impossible to predict, with a strange season springing surprises at every turn.

    However, had City and Villa played one another in September, most observers would have confidently looked towards Kevin De Bruyne and Jack Grealish to supply the creative inspiration for their respective teams.

    It is safe to say each star midfielder has lived up to his billing over the first half of the campaign.

    Mutual respect

    Grealish earned a long-awaited England debut earlier this season and was a bright spark when England suffered a 2-0 Nations League defeat in Belgium.

    Before the match, the 25-year-old revealed he spent his final preparations casting an admiring eye over a certain member of the opposition.

    "For the past 24 hours, I've been watching little clips of my favourite players like I do before every game," he told Sky Sports.

    "I watch loads of clips. I watch clips of De Bruyne, I watch clips of [Philippe] Coutinho, just players that are in my position, really.

    "That's what I've done since I was a little kid and I still do it to this day - I have no shame in saying that and that's what gets me going for football matches."

    After the match, De Bruyne conceded Grealish had also captured his attention.

    "I rate him very highly," he said. "He's somebody I mentioned before, talking to the team-mates at City, in a random conversation.

    "In England they talked about creative problems in midfield, but he brings that to a team. He deserves a shot."

    Those warm words from De Bruyne seemed to carry a little more weight when a move for Grealish was rumoured to be one of the topics of discussion during Guardiola's successful contract extension negotiations in November.

    Given the City boss already must try to accommodate the playmaking talents of Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva around De Bruyne, it is questionable whether he needs such a reinforcement in his creative department.

    However, Opta data from this season shows Grealish is doing plenty to match the reigning PFA Players' Player of the Year.

    King creators

    Both De Bruyne and Grealish have started 15 Premier League games apiece this season, with the latter playing one more minute overall.

    In that time, the Villa man has created 55 chances to De Bruyne's 51, although City's number 17 has 10 assists to Grealish's seven following an outrageous outside-of-the-boot cross for John Stones to open the scoring in Sunday's 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace.

    Overall, they are second and third in the Premier League's assists table, Harry Kane's fruitful relationship with Son Heung-min helping the England captain to amass 11 for Tottenham.

    Manchester United talisman Bruno Fernandes separates them at the top when it comes to chances created, having crafted 54 for his Old Trafford colleagues.

    Those numbers continue to look incredibly strong when projected across Europe's top five leagues.

    Hakan Calhanoglu has created 59 chances for Serie A leaders Milan, although only six of those have been converted, while the continental top five is rounded out by Lyon's Memphis Depay being level with De Bruyne on 51.

    In terms of assists, Kane and De Bruyne are again one and two from Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller (nine) and Roma's Henrikh Mkhitaryan (eight).

    Goals, guile and grubby work

    De Bruyne has fired off 57 shots this season (17 on target) to Grealish's 40 (14 on target).

    However, City's designated penalty taker has only scored three, with his first Premier League goal from open play this season coming earlier in January at Chelsea.

    Grealish has weighed in with five for Dean Smith's men, including a double in their logic-defying 7-2 evisceration of champions Liverpool.

    Grealish has 81.2 per cent accuracy for passes ending in the final third, outstripping De Bruyne's 73.5 per cent, although the City favourite attempting 105 crosses and corners to the younger man's 51 goes some way to explaining this discrepancy.

    In terms of dribble success rate, they are neck and neck again, with Grealish returning 63.8 per cent and De Bruyne 63.

    Grealish has attempted 69 dribbles to his idol's 46, which does a little to explain the frequency with which he draws free-kicks.

    His 73 fouls won is comfortably the highest in the division, with Palace's Wilfred Zaha (51), Liverpool's Sadio Mane (43) and Kane (40) up next.

    A key reason for this could be how integral Grealish is to so much of Villa's attacking play. As per Opta, he is responsible for 11 per cent of his team's passes. By contrast, Zaha and Kane make five per cent and Mane four.

    As players who cherish the ball so much, De Bruyne and his counterpart do plenty to get it back.

    The UEFA midfielder of the year has made 74 recoveries, 27 tackles and seven interceptions in the Premier League this season, compared to 79 recoveries, 23 tackles and eight interceptions for Grealish.

    It seems implausible that these two midfield maestros will stray too far from the thick of the action at the Etihad Stadium, which should make for a very watchable encounter.

    Whether or not it amounts to a live audition for Grealish, only time will tell.

  • How did Malone get Jokic to score more? - I beat him with a pillowcase of soda cans, jokes Nuggets coach How did Malone get Jokic to score more? - I beat him with a pillowcase of soda cans, jokes Nuggets coach

    Nikola Jokic has become a more aggressive scorer because he was beaten with a pillowcase full of soda cans by Mike Malone, the Denver Nuggets coach joked.

    Nuggets center Jokic had 27 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in three quarters as Denver cruised to a 119-101 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Pepsi Center on Tuesday.

    The 25-year-old has had at least a double-double in each of his 14 games this season and is averaging a triple-double of 25.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 10 assists – all of which represent career highs.

    Jokic's best scoring season was 2018-19 when he averaged 20.1 points per game, and Malone gave a light-hearted response when asked what has motivated the Serbian to become more prolific.

    He replied: "I locked him in my office one day and I beat him with a pillowcase full of soda cans and I said: 'You've got to score more!'"

    In a far more serious tone, Malone continued: "You know how he is, he's a great player, he's playing at an MVP level. You go back to tonight, 27, 12 and six, only one turnover.

    "Early on they were playing him one-on-one, and sometimes I get frustrated because I don't think we give him the ball enough, especially when he's being guarded one-on-one.

    "Nikola has seen every possible double-team, and so have we as a team. We space the floor correctly and he is so willing to find the open man, and we had great possessions against the double-team.

    "He's always going to take what the defense gives him but he is being more aggressive, which is what we need from him."

    The Nuggets are 10-2 against the Thunder since 2017-18, their best record against any Western Conference opponent in that span.

    Denver's latest victory saw them improve to 7-7 on the season, but they are yet to hold a winning record this season after never being .500 or worse after their first game in the previous campaign.

  • Lampard accepts Chelsea 'not ready to compete' for Premier League title Lampard accepts Chelsea 'not ready to compete' for Premier League title

    Under-pressure Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard accepts the Blues are "not ready to compete" for the Premier League title following another defeat.

    Chelsea lost 2-0 at Leicester City on Tuesday, meaning their only win in their previous five Premier League games was against a Fulham side languishing in the relegation zone.

    Victory for Leicester put Brendan Rodgers' side top of the table at least until Manchester United go to Fulham on Wednesday, while Chelsea will be 11 points adrift of the summit if the Red Devils win.

    It was not so long ago that Chelsea were being dubbed favourites for the Premier League title by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, with Lampard's side top of the pile as recently as early December.

    Since beating Leeds United to go top on December 5, Chelsea have taken just seven points from a possible 24 and Tuesday's defeat meant only Newcastle United (52) have conceded more away goals in the Premier League than them (50) since the start of last season.

    Reports began to emerge a few weeks ago about Lampard's position being in doubt, and it is unlikely he has done himself any favours by essentially conceding defeat in the title race.

    "I don't think this is the first time I've been asked this, been asked this a few times in the last few weeks – after 16 unbeaten we lost two on the bounce and I was starting to be asked these questions, and I understand it," Lampard told reporters.

    "It's the expectations of this club. Whether I think it's right or wrong… As I said pre-match, we are not in the position of a Chelsea that we were in periods when we were winning leagues.

    "I took this job knowing that there will be difficult times because it's not a club ready to compete. We had a transfer ban, we had young players. Now we have new players and we can see that the new players, the younger players are striving for form, to be settled into this team.

    "While everything was rosy in early-to-mid December, it's not so rosy now. We're not the only team to suffer that situation and I'm not the only manager to be put under this sort of pressure.

    "The lucky thing for me is I'm good at handling the pressure. I don't like it, I want to win games, I want everyone to be talking about how we are moving towards the top of the table like we were a month ago, but the reality is, for me, I could sense these periods were coming and that's all I have to concern myself with, how to deal with them and get us out of it."

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